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Building a Shared Community

By Julia Bell

Nightingale Housing

Co-housing as a response to housing affordability – Building a shared community

Melbourne’s median house price has broken the $700,000 barrier, with median rental prices also hitting $400 per week. The housing affordability crisis facing Melburnians is made even more challenging by the lack of wage growth, with growth hitting a record low of just 1.9 per cent over the past year.

It is becoming apparent that we must find more innovative ways to respond to this housing crisis if we are to ensure Melbourne retains its ‘most liveable’ title in the coming decades.

As the composition of our households continues to change, so too does the housing typology needed. Our population is aging, and just over 30% of households will be single person households by 2026. Social isolation is a serious emerging issue. As lifestyles change, a new, sharing economy is emerging, consisting of new, more collaborative paradigms of urban living.

Co-housing, though not a new initiative, is emerging more frequently in medium-high density housing models as a way of entering the property market which enables sharing of bills, cars and household goods, as well as trading services like babysitting and care for the elderly.

Co-housing is defined as an intentional community of private homes clustered around shared space. Each attached or single family home has traditional amenities, including a private kitchen. Shared spaces typically feature a common house, which may include a large kitchen and dining area, laundry and recreational spaces. Common characteristics are described below:

Relationships
  • Neighbours commit to being part of a community for everyone’s mutual benefit.
  • Cohousing cultivates a culture of sharing and caring.
  • Design features and neighbourhood size (typically 20-40 homes) promote frequent interaction and close relationships.
Balancing Privacy and Community
  • Cohousing neighbourhoods are designed for privacy as well as community.
  • Residents balance privacy and community by choosing their own level of engagement.
Participation
  • Decision making is participatory and often based on consensus.
  • Self-management empowers residents, builds community, and saves money.
Shared Values
  • Cohousing communities support residents in actualizing shared values.
  • Cohousing communities typically adopt green approaches to living.
Recent examples of co-housing at a high density include the Nightingale and The Commons apartment developments in Brunswick. The Commons was developed on the ideas of both achieving material reductionism and the positive social impacts of share facilities. 15% of the property is devoted to communal facilities, including a shared roof garden and laundry room. The communal spaces encourage interaction with neighbours.

Nightingale was developed on a similar ethos, guided by the notion of affordability. The combination of an economical design, sustainability and reduced developers profits makes the apartments more affordable whilst also nurturing a social and community atmosphere within the development.

A lower density version of co-housing that is also emerging is single-dwelling suburban blocks being adapted to accommodate two or three smaller dwellings with some share spaces, reducing the overall physical and environmental footprint per household. It is similar in principle to granny flat development but less restrictive, allowing more varied and flexible household groupings.

So could co-housing help us towards more affordable housing? Is it a way of improving social inclusion? What ways could we incentivise co-housing through the planning scheme?


Further Reading 

http://theconversation.com/how-co-housing-could-make-homes-cheaper-and-greener-39235

http://theconversation.com/how-co-housing-could-make-homes-cheaper-and-greener-39235

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/oct/31/the-commons-could-co-housing-offer-a-different-kind-of-great-australian-dream

http://nightingalehousing.org/the-commons-1/

Jan Gehl: Key to the City

By Julia Moiso

Jan Gehl
Source: Steven Siewert

Jan Gehl (80) is a Danish architect and urban designer who founded Gehl Architects – Urban Quality Consultants, based in Copenhagen, Denmark. His work and research creatively reimagines the multiple ways in which communities utilise the city and the public realm. For Gehl, design always begins with an analysis of the spaces between buildings. Only after establishing a vision of what kind of public life is desired in a city of public space, attention can then be given to the surrounding buildings and the ways the spaces can productively interact. He is a man on a mission to transform Sydney into a walking and cycling-friendly destination, has been proudly been awarded by Lord Mayor Clover Moore, the key to the City of Sydney.

He is also the second Dane to receive a Key to the City of Sydney, following Jørn Utzon who received the honour in 1998, famously known for being the Architect behind Sydney’s legendary Opera House.

While first being commissioned by the City of Sydney in 2007, more than a decade onwards, Jan Gehl has contributed driving ideas behind Sydney’s recent transformation including plans to ‘pedestrianise’ George Street, bring inner-city laneways to life, and create a greener, more liveable and better connected city as part of the Sustainable Sydney 2030 initiative.

Presenting a symbolic key to the city is the highest honour a city can give to an individual or organisation. It recognises the recipient’s contribution to furthering the ideals of a city or an outstanding achievement at an international level. Previous individuals awarded the Key to the City of Sydney have been received by Nelson Mandela (1990), Dame Joan Sutherland (1991), Juan Antonio Samaranch (2000), Aung San Suu Kyi (2003), John Bell AO (2015), and various Australian Olympic, Paralympic and other sporting teams and personalities.

Gehl comments about his role in the city’s planning; he observed that Sydney had, for too long, put cars ahead of people. This is a trait many cities often slip into subconsciously, rather than planning for people, infrastructure is often prioritised to continuously plan for upgraded road networks, a seemingly never ending investment - currently exhibited by the NSW State Government. Gehl believes that the most successful places have in fact, outgrown the automobile. This can be seen all around the world in Copenhagen, Denmark; Halifax, Canada; Melbourne, Australia; and Times Square, New York to name a few cities who have ditched the roads for pedestrian friendly environments.

Together, Gehl Architects and the City of Sydney Council under Lord Mayor Clover Moore developed a plan to unlock Sydney’s outstanding potential by making it a city for people, with walkable streets, great public spaces and a vibrant, green heart. Lord Mayor Clover Moore has commended Gehl’s work since being commissioned a decade ago and has made extensive efforts to implement his recommendations. From simple initiatives to make the streets more liveable like upgrading functional street furniture, planting more trees and incorporating more greenery into the city, to major projects like the transformation of George Street, the light rail and the improvement of laneway life throughout the city centre.

The City continues to embrace Gehl’s vision for Sydney with continual improvements to ensure a better quality public realm is accomplished and a more sustainable future for the city is achieved for future generations.

We believe that Gehl’s work in rejuvenating the city will help create a more liveable city with a primary people centric vision. Despite the continual rise in private vehicular travel seen globally, can it be said that this approach will help revolutionise cities? Is this approach seen as a global trend for a successful city? Is this seen as an ecologically, economically and socially just and fair strategy to the contribution of revitalisation to the city?

Breaking the Bus Stigma

By Gareth Mogg

Brisbane's BRT Network
“Melbourne has great buses!” said no one ever. Sure, Melbourne has buses. They’re even clearly visible, taking up space on Lonsdale Street or roaming around the suburbs like a teenager with too much time on their hands. But more often than not they’re running entirely empty, and one begins to question the meaning and purpose of the bus as a feasible public transport option. Yet, buses are able to provide significant transit benefits and have been reimagined in recent times in cities over the world as relevant, effective and high capacity transit options. With the Victorian State Government’s recent plan to overhaul bus contracts (a current cost of $600 million to the State Government) the question emerges - can Melbourne fully ‘get on the bus’ and embrace the bus as a feasible public transportation option?

The role of the bus in Melbourne
When people think of Melbourne, one of the more ‘iconic’ images that springs to mind is the classic tram – which is hardly surprising given Melbourne’s tram network is the most extensive in the world, and is a strong part of the City’s heritage. Following trams, Melbourne’s train lines are also some of the oldest routes in the city, with many routes having been constructed in early colonial times and relied upon as the instigator for the growth of our suburbs before the advent of the private motor car. In more modern times, the upkeep of these two transit systems are high on the Victorian state government’s priority list as demonstrated by the creation of a new route (Metro Rail Project), significant route upgrades (Level Crossing Removal project) and various extensions (Route 55 and 96 tram track extensions).

Bogota's BRT System
However, both transit systems suffer from a common ailment – their monocentric nature. All routes travel into and through the city (which is fine if that is your destination) but cross-city travel is slightly more difficult. For example, if you want to take a tram or train from Brunswick to Northcote, you have to travel into the city before heading back out in effectively the same direction. Sure you could walk and cycle this route (or call an Uber), but sometimes neither of these are viable options.
Enter the bus (specifically, the 508 [if anyone is interested], which traverses from Brunswick to Northcote direct). However, this route, and many others in Melbourne, operate buses that sit largely empty in a sea of high personal car traffic. Why is this so? What benefits could an improved bus system bring? How is this being done elsewhere and what can we do?

Bus system case studies
One needs only look as far as Brisbane for a successful ‘real world’ example of an integrated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. The basic principle of the BRT is providing the necessary infrastructure and rolling stock for high frequency, direct bus services which, in the case of Brisbane currently, consists of 5 high capacity busways with buses running every 12 seconds in the busiest part of the city. International cities, such as Curitiba (Brazil) and Bogota (Colombia), have also constructed BRT systems in order to deal with growing traffic congestion and disorganised bus routes, with Bogota now having 12 BRT lines which services 2.2million trips per day (while reducing the number of buses on the road by over 7000!).
Other developed cities such as Canada’s capital Ottawa have also employed BRTs to a similar effect: quicker travel times, fewer transfers and grade separated routes from vehicle traffic.

Ottawa's BRT System
An important part of the appeal of BRTs in relation to other transit options (such as subways, trams or train lines) is that BRTs are cheap to implement. They also require less construction, can be rolled out in stages (so they are able to open up before completion and start earning a return), and generally require no expensive tunnelling. They are also adaptable; they are not limited by tracks and routes can be quickly and easily adjusted to respond to externalities (weather, accidents, and road works) and even passenger demand. Importantly, BRT’s capacity can rival that of LRT and be operational in half the time.

We know that Melbourne already has a strong integrated transport network primarily within the inner city region that caters for over train 192,000 commuters and over 43,000 tram users every day. Yet car use is still dominant, with over 1.2million people driving (or as a passenger) per day (figures as of Census day 2011). Buses currently account for just under 30,000 patron trips per day despite the fact that Melbourne actually has quite a prolific bus network capable of connecting people and places in a better, more efficient manner than both train and tram. Yet they remain Melbourne’s most unpopular mode of transport, and the notion of more of a BRT style system may be able to assist with this.

Admittedly, the notion of a BRT in Melbourne isn’t without its challenges, but perhaps there is room for Melbourne commuters to further embrace the benefits of the bus by way of further infrastructure investment and a considered ‘multi-modal’ transit strategy and investment. After all, buses are adaptable, more sustainable than personal car travel (when full), efficient and cheap. They can also provide better connectivity and be operational in a very short period of time.

And who knows? With better organised routes, separated bus lanes, and better availability of route information (in the form of readable route maps) – perhaps we could hear more people shortly proclaim that “Melbourne has great buses!”

How do you feel about Melbourne’s buses? Do they invoke feelings of joy or rage? Do you have a local bus route that serves you better than tram or train? Let us know in the comments!

Further Reading